Para-church dynamics and economics

Discussion in 'Church Order' started by MW, Mar 17, 2014.

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  1. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    I am interested to know what others think of parachurch organisations. Do the dynamics and economics of parachurch organisations necessarily interfere with or undermine the dynamics and economics of church planting and growth? I am inclined to think they do and I think some of the weakness of the local church today can at least in part be attributed to the rise of other agencies in which people are seeking and finding Christian nurture. What do you think? What consequences should this have on our attitudes and actions towards "Reformed" parachurch organisations?
  2. Tim

    Tim Puritan Board Graduate

    I have suspected for a long time that parachurch groups operating at universities "steal" students who might otherwise spend their time at local church congregations. These organizations are often lead by full-time staff, but I doubt they are Biblically ordained or are required to subscribe to any comprehensive system of doctrine. Meetings include teaching/preaching, praise, and prayer, but no sacraments. Although groups aimed at graduate students exist, ones that cater to primarily undergraduates are highly segregated by age, with 95% of attendees between 18-22 years old.

    While I can understand the appeal of seeking Christian fellowship among like individuals (such as having academics or sports in common), the profile of such groups is substantially different from the interactions described in the Bible. The Bible tells us how to organize ourselves, and I see little value in such groups beyond what every church congregation should offer.
  3. jwithnell

    jwithnell Moderator Staff Member

    God has given his elect all they need in his church before and after they come to know Christ. The church provides a profound unity by calling unbelievers, faithfully preaching to the visible and invisible church, and providing the essential nutrients by the means of grace at all stages of physical and spiritual life. To extract the gospel from this setting is, in my mind, a travesty.
  4. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Matthew, gives back two pages of hits on "parachurch" using the site search feature (see lowest right corner of main page). Possibly some articles from "Ordained Servant" (see 2nd page) will give you some of the sentiment from within our church (which seems to share your general outlook).
  5. yeutter

    yeutter Puritan Board Senior

    We have seen a troubling shift in para-church groups. When I was a freshman in the University, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and Navigators did not view the Church of Rome as a true Church. Now they seem to have not problem with the Roman Communion
  6. thbslawson

    thbslawson Puritan Board Freshman

    A a Christian who works with a para-church organization I obviously have no problem with it fundamentally. Each missionary with our organization must be sent out by and under the authority of a local church. Our organization provides a structured environment for cooperation and mutual encouragement.
  7. Rangerus

    Rangerus Puritan Board Junior

    do internet discussion forums interfere or undermine mainstream news sources?
  8. KMK

    KMK Administrator Staff Member

    Or, in many cases it is the other way around. Many people turn to parachurch organizations for nurture because their local church has turned its back on edification in favor of church growth.
  9. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    I just got burned by an evangelical parachurch this year and so I am re-thinking this issue. A corporate mentality infects many if not most evangelical parachurch orgs I now believe.

    The official stance from our Field Director as well as the Asia Area Director that our sending churches had no say in decisions made on the field, but that we were “under the direct supervision” of that field’s Field Director (one man). It was also stated that the decision of the Field Director trumps the sending church’s voice. It was also stated that the role of the sending church was to “identify,” “commission,” and “support” the sent missionary but that the missionary came under the direct control of the agency once they landed on the field (translation: “Send us your people and money, but butt out because we are now in charge!”).

    In the literature and during the recruitment stage, however, this same org played up the vital role that they believed local churches had to play. But, once I was on the inside, I found out that this was mostly rhetoric. I wouldn't be surprised if this is not representative of the majority of evangelical parachurches.
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2014
  10. Edward

    Edward Puritanboard Commissioner

    Instead of complaining about the resources going to parachurch organizations, one should rather ask what shortcomings of the church created the need/opportunity for parachurch organizations. I would suggest that this, perhaps, has the cause and effect backwards. Instead of parachurch organizations causing the weakness, they are a result of the weakness, at least in this country.

  11. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    Can we define what precisely a parachurch organization is? A seminary or other Christian educational institution seems to me to be a parachurch organization in some sense. A mission agency is also a sort of parachurch organization. What about Christian publishers? Or a Christian advocacy group (like Prison Fellowship)?
  12. Shawn Mathis

    Shawn Mathis Puritan Board Sophomore

    It depends. 1. On the definition. 2. On the particular type of parachurch and how it functions.

    As for 2. a good parachurch model would work closely with the church. Or at the least, it would pointed direct people who are inclined toward dependency upon them to their own church, for example.

    However, my general impression is that they do economically and numerically undermine the church. But maybe that's just in the American scene.
  13. jwithnell

    jwithnell Moderator Staff Member

    For purposes of discussion, I have in mind organizations that take upon the task of spreading the gospel and holding regular meetings for participants to hold a form of worship.

    The difference here is that God has never set forth a news organization. How we gather and interpret news is entirely a matter of Christian liberty within the typical confines of the law -- truthfulness, not being profane, and so forth.

    In the scriptures, you see the prophets preaching to the church, you see the apostles establishing, going to, and supporting the churches. They may have engaged in open debates and participated in public forums (not unlike some reformed conferences), but their focus, time, and attention was upon the church. When one came to Christ, he was in the context where he could be baptized, hear preaching that was given under the general authority of the elders both locally and regionally, be regularly shepherded and admitted to the Lord's table.

    Many of the problems in modern American evangelicalism can be traced to para-church organizations. Church lite certainly had its home there. It has encouraged separatism among Christians. As believers we need the younger, the older, the infirmed, the wiser, the person who is at a different stage in life.
  14. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    The idea that these organisations are filling a need the churches have somehow failed to provide is without foundation. They create the sense of need. That is what good organisation and presentation accomplishes. Church structure, standards, polity, and accountability mean the church is not free to function in ways these organisations take upon themselves. At the same time, the freedom of these organisations caters to the desire for independency and consumer choice, which enable the clients to enjoy a privilege without taking upon them the normal responsibilities which would result from church-participation.
  15. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    Rev Winzer, help me understand a) what exactly you mean by a parachurch organization b) why a parachurch as such is inherently problematic.

    In other words, would Westminster Seminary be considered a parachurch organization given that, a) it trains ministers of the Gospel b) it has no official church affiliation?
  16. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Identifying particular organisations is only going to prejudice the discussion and lead people to argue positions based on favouritism rather than on principle.

    To provide a general definition, a parachurch organisation is ANY organisation which assumes ecclesiastical functions outside of the ecclesiastical structure.

    If training for the ministry is an ecclesiastical function then any independent theological seminary which trains men (or women) for the ministry would obviously be a parachurch organisation.
  17. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    One thing we learned was that donations sent to a missionary in the name of that parachurch became the legal property of that parachurch. Thus, many orgs very much control the funds which come to their missionaries. They assert this is only to "ensure accountability" yet when disagreements arise, such as in our case, the org additionally defined their duty with regards to our donors' funds as, "We also need to ensure that all your activities conform to our stated vision and values" (an additional measure of control that is much more subjective). We found that we had to ask for permission to use these funds rather than merely report our use of funds.

    Even when local churches and supporters (even a sending church) desired funding to be used for some project or effort, the org had the "right" to veto that project and refuse the release of those funds.

    What is more, ministry buildings and houses built with funds channeled through a mission org (even if given exclusively by one's sending church) become the property of the mission org if the missionary decides to leave or switch orgs. I was reminded that my house was no longer my own once I decided to leave my mission org. I know missionaries that have stayed with orgs because the org exercises undue control over them and to leave would mean to be penalized and lose those ministry assets that they bought with donor funds channeled through the org.

    Thus it seems that many parachurches are not "coming alongside" local churches to help them, but are wresting control over many missionaries who should be answering to their local churches. They essentially become employees of the org and only report occasionally to their sending church.
  18. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    So, if I am hearing you correctly, an organization which assumes functions without which the church could not function, but which are not, strictly speaking, ecclesiastical (such as a publisher), then it is not a parachurch.

    I would make a distinction between organizations aimed at aiding the church in its mission and those which end up usurping that mission.
  19. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Correct; publishing literature, teaching per se, anything of that nature is obviously a lawful civic employment.
  20. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    And yet our denominations often have in-house publishers and seminaries, while acknowledging the usefulness of independent institutions of this nature.
  21. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    I don't see the relevance. The question is whether bodies which are not churches should take up ecclesiastical functions. You seem to be inverting the issue.
  22. Edward

    Edward Puritanboard Commissioner

    That may be quite true in Australia - my knowledge deals only with the United States, where I know that you have not stated does not apply as a universal truth.
  23. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    I doubt there is any difference. You are free to attempt to substantiate your assertion with an example or two.
  24. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    The problem is that there doesn't seem to be a clear understanding (apart from the sacraments) of what constitutes a uniquely ecclesiastical function.
  25. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    As Protestants "the Word" is front and centre as a mark of the church. With the proliferation of "ministries" which take upon them to teach the Word, it should be quite clear to Protestants when this uniquely ecclesiastical function is taken elsewhere.
  26. jwithnell

    jwithnell Moderator Staff Member

    So very well stated Rev. Winzer!

    Philip, I think we could draw a circle and place in its center the gospel and the care and feeding of God's people via the means of grace. That is the stricter definition that I was using. It would be fair to place another circle, target style around the first to include the things that can help a church in its mission.

    As an example, while God gave us his word, I can't think of too many places that tells us how it is to be physically conveyed aside from the ark of the covenant and some of the mentions Paul makes inside his letters. Publishing companies like Great Commission serve a valuable role in providing the materials used by the PCA and OPC in Sunday School and VBS classes. It answers to these denominations but has materials available to anyone who comes along. We might draw from materials produced by other publishers as long as their teaching does not conflict with the WCF. So a kind of "grey" area exists where a function may be either inside the church or outside of it.

    I hope I'm not muddying the waters here, but quite frankly, I'm not entirely sure how to handle all of what might be considered in this grey area versus the core center. Seminaries make an interesting question, and I'd love to know if y'all have any knowledge about the mindset of the puritans when they established Harvard, Yale, etc. I have some knowledge regarding the history of these schools, but can't think if they were considered to be under the regional, albeit congregational churches.
  27. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    So would you then object to preaching of the word being done in, say, the academic context? I know of a number of teaching organizations that exist specifically to aid and supplement the church in its mission.

    Does Great Commission publish, say, Calvin's works? When I talk about materials here I'm thinking theology, church history, biblical criticism, all of it. GC publishes a very limited range of materials, indicating that the PCA and OPC recognize that only a small slice of the materials they require even need to be published in-house.

    It's fairly hard to have accountability of any kind under a decentralized structure. Also, when half your denomination goes Unitarian (Harvard) oversight is a joke. On the other hand, Princeton went liberal specifically because of meddling at the denominational level (prompting Machen to resign) which is why Westminster was formed outside the auspices of a denomination.
  28. thbslawson

    thbslawson Puritan Board Freshman

    You're making tons of assumptions and making lots of sweeping generalizations and, at worst, false accusations. Yes, indeed some organizations are guilty of the things you mention here but there is absolutely no ground to say that all parachurch organizations are. Many parachurch organizations function in submission to local churches. I'm finding many of your claims to be without foundation.
  29. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Professor

    So far as civic employment, would that disallow publishing religious material and teaching doctrine? In other words, would it be OK in your opinion to simply call it a bussiness and not a ministry if one is allowed to publish and teach religious matters? Or in your opinion should this simply not be done outside the church?
  30. timmopussycat

    timmopussycat Puritan Board Junior

    Nor does it apply in Canada.
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